Posts filed under ‘Special Rants’

The Visible Hand of the Un-free Market

Corporations are not people. The people they represent are not necessarily US citizens. And their tax money shows their allegiance to foreign nations. Other than that, the Citizens United case decided by the Supreme Court in 2010 merely violates the balance of power between a free market economy and democracy as a core principle of the American way of life. Political corruption and economic tyranny can be the only outcomes in the end.

Until a corporation can register to vote and walk into a polling place to cast a single vote, it is not a person. In the meantime, however, we have a serious problem thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 that determined that corporations were people. Since then, campaigns financed by corporate sponsors have controlled a significant number of elections in the US, effectively hijacking the democratic process from real people. Within individual states, outsiders are determining who will run for office to represent the residents in both houses of the Congress. And, at the national level, presidential politics have similarly come under the control of anonymous PACs of people.

The power money comes from multinational corporations. And their shareholders, to whom they hold allegiance, represent more or less every nation in the world. So, how can a corporate “person” promise us that it is an American citizen and only serves the interests of American people? Decades before the Citizens United case came to court, these same US corporations already had taken tax breaks for supply-side economics and used them to finance the transfer operations out of the US and create jobs in other nations. And this has not been their only odd way of saying thank you in the US.

Outsourcing jobs offshore was supposed to ensure low-cost supply functions, greater profits, and eventual payback in the US. Unfortunately, a lot of profits have remained pooled offshore. And worse, not all of these corporate citizens have been satisfied with their US headquarters. Indeed, the trend has been to find a nation with a lower corporate tax rate*, invest in a small company there, and transfer the corporate assets and headquarters to that foreign office, effectively renouncing US corporate registration. This process, known as corporate inversion, means that taxes on the profits from US tax breaks to support supply-side economics are actually paid to a foreign nation. Even your corner drugstore, Walgreen’s, had considered a corporate inversion recently, but yielded to political pressure to delay action.

Not to worry, our domestic representatives of these foreign corporations will continue to demand supply-side concessions in the wake of our sorry employment situation in the US. And, most ironically, they will continue to win elections supported by the Tea Party faithful and other Cretan Paradox sufferers under the banner of “taking back America.”

As I mentioned in my last post…

“The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.”

This mess really needs to be cleaned up in 2015. There will be too much at stake in 2016 elections for us to leave our destinies in the hands of the incredibly visible hand of the un-free market.

* Conservatives have used this discrepancy in corporate tax rates to call for lowering rates in the US. However, nations with lower corporate tax rates often have higher personal income tax rates to make up the difference. These same politicians are not likely disclose such details or to seek that balance.

July 21, 2015 at 8:26 AM Leave a comment

Why Isn’t America Enough?

Time to Wake Up & Restore Balance in Our Political Economy Under 1 US flag Only, Please

Apparently the crux of the matter that necessitated the Civil War has not been resolved. Pride in our nation and its basic constructs has not been enough…even 150 years later. Some significant number of Americans believes that their right to honor major proponents of slavery is more important than our belief that all men are created equal…that their right to celebrate Confederate “honor” supersedes the dignity and pursuit of happiness of people of color, people whose ancestors were kidnapped, displaced by an ocean, imprisoned, sold into slavery, and even forced to fight under a Confederate flag. Ironically, many offenders are political conservatives who seek to “take back America” while turning a blind eye to the deepest erosion of American values.

The American way of life is at risk. Corporations are people [sic] who dominate our formerly representative form of government based on democratic elections. Voting rights are no longer guaranteed to be free or accessible to all. More than half of American school children live in poverty, and most have no access to equity in education, both potent dream killers. Liberty and justice are mired in racial bias. And freedom of assembly carries more weight for white people than non-white people, for the rich more so than the poor. In short, our words are being undermined by our actions. All people are not born equal.

The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is  essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.

The skirmishes over Southern heritage and honor have become a smoke screen over the unseen concessions to the larger American way of life under the US Constitution. We cannot protect our deepest constructs unless we collectively embrace concepts of freedom for all, equal access under the law, and protection from economic tyranny. Instead, however, our society is becoming polarized and ethnocentric as we protect shrinking shares of wealth while economic and political power is increasingly concentrated for the 1% at the top of an oligopoly.

Why isn’t America enough for the Confederate flag wavers? The reflections of too many people over the past and their unrepentant obsession with the dubious tyranny of white supremacist thought are mind-boggling. Give it up. We face real challenges to our greater way of life. We can only rebuild our nation in the words of our founding fathers if we collectively walk the walk of the free and the brave even as we acknowledge the profound irony of the flawed society in which those words were written.

July 19, 2015 at 9:29 AM Leave a comment

US History and Other Little White Lies

It took an article by a Bostonian in 2015 to tell a Richmond, Virginia home girl just how bad the history of the city had been. Not even the nuns (ironically also from Boston) who were my first teachers 50 years earlier dared to reveal the magnitude of the slave trade that had flourished a century before just a couple of miles down the road from the school. But can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride in time to re-frame the future?

I thought things had gotten about as bad as they could when researchers confirmed evidence of cannibalism in the Jamestown Settlement where my ancestors had arrived in 1607. As something of a born-again Yankee, I am still reeling from yet another omission from my southern history lessons, stories that were at best dangerous half-truths, diluted by pretensions of grand ideas of brave white men and their ladies, and predicated on slavery of a scale that shocks me anew. Why had I not learned the story that Richmond, Virginia was second only to New Orleans as the likely slavery capital – of the world – in its day?

I had not looked back since leaving Richmond in 1973, somehow accepting that the worst of slavery happened in the Deep South…not my own backyard. I fear that is what many people were taught…a sense of plausible deniability that any of us were the true bogeymen. And with that, white southerners waved that Confederate flag and bought into a profoundly flawed sense of honor. Worse, that flag bolstered the racist acts of unreconstructed hate mongers who continue to plague us today.

The Civil War erupted out of an economic debate…could We the People continue to get free labor from enslaved men, women, and children in any state and still hold onto the virtues upon which our nation was founded? And there was an unresolved issue of State’s rights…with trading on human flesh at its core. In short, it was about slavery. Building the National Museum of Slavery in Shockoe Bottom is essential to memorialize the victims of slavery and to remember American History in its darkest days.

The issue had come to a head as the slave trade in Richmond alone had escalated to 350, 000 people in the 35 years before the end of the war in 1965, despite Federal laws in 1808 and 1811 that banned importing slaves into the US. Enforcement of the law was underfunded, and individual states elected to ignore the embargo. The brutality of the treatment of those who were enslaved further reflected the arrogance of slavers toward humanity and the basic tenets of their government. When Richmond burned as the Civil War was coming to an end, locals turned a blind eye. The scene of the crime was lost, and slave burial grounds eventually were paved over for parking lots or enclosed when an Interstate highway was built.

Efforts have been made to reveal some of the lies told in our history books. The real Christopher Columbus did not discover America…he was the white marauder who launched the first battles to conquer it. And the West was won, not as manifest destiny, but through theft of Native American land, sweated labor of immigrants on the railroads, and a general disregard for human dignity for non-white people. In our hearts we know that this is true. Yet we still hide behind the value of states’ rights in order to deny healthcare or hunger relief benefits to the poor or underemployed in an increasingly inequitable economy. And we cast wary glances upon immigrants seeking freedom within our borders.

Questions remain about our gumption to not just face our sordid past – from gifts of smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans in the Plimouth Colony to prisons filled by racism today – but to act on the grave necessity of re-framing our future. Can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride now exposed as fairy tale versions of some truly dark conquests? The don’t-ask-don’t-tell white history of the United States is not working for any of us. We must face it to prevent its shadow from being cast any further upon our children.

July 9, 2015 at 9:57 AM Leave a comment

History Lessons in the Age of Social Media?

Amy Winehouse was a neglected child with great talent and no sense of boundaries. She self-destructed in the public eye. And, in private, someone’s phone was capturing sordid details to augment what the paparazzi missed. A documentary captures this in the story of her rise and fall in true tabloid fashion. It is an indictment of an era’s lost privacy, hunger for the sleaze factor, and bad storytelling. Is anyone recording all the facts and reporting them in balanced fashion anymore?

I knew I was in trouble last night when a preview of the soon-to-be released documentary on Amy Winehouse began like a bad home movie. A hand-held camera, probably a smartphone, wobbled erratically while capturing blurry pictures of her with friends and family at age 18. I quickly flashed back to movies like The Blair Witch Project and the wholly rotoscoped Waking Life that had given me two of a handful of migraines in my life but decided to stick it out. By the end, I was moved to tears as a montage of child-like Amy pictures accompanied the credits while she crooned one of her hit songs. Then I got mad.

Where was the professional footage? Why wasn’t there more music? This was a story told without an arc…a train wreck in slow motion start to finish, a screwed up tabloid version of a wasted life. Her self-described best years got little more than a footnote, and the music got edited out in favor of repetitive narration as soon as each song really started to rock. The only real exception was the too-brief coverage of Winehouse’s studio date with Tony Bennett. Was there any other decent footage of Amy in existence? My husband’s reaction was essentially the same. We came home with the taste of bile in our mouths – too real given Winehouse’s bulimia – that could only be brushed away while YouTube videos quenched our thirst for Amy’s legacy.

Is this how history will be recorded from now on? Do we only care about what is trending? What gets clicks? A legitimate documentarian seeks to capture history for posterity in accurate and watchable fashion. A tragic story can be told as a cautionary tale, but true fame can only come from exemplary talent and a wave of success to which flashing cameras on the street merely serve as a gauge for celebrity, not the main event. Yet we watched a couple of hours of phone videos, gossip, and seizure-inducing flashbulb popping.

Winehouse fell victim to her own celebrity, but it was the catalyst for her death…not the story of her life. Someone in Amy Winehouse’s private entourage betrayed her with great regularity, and a film maker bought the footage and the brand. It could be called Amy Died. But it only matters if the fact that she lived had meaning. This latter point has been lost, but the first to hit the theaters will get real money, especially with never-before-seen naughty footage. Boo-hiss.

Here’s hoping someone documents Ms. Winehouse’s actual life, with a story arc that peaks too soon, ends badly, but reminds us of why her short life left us feeling genuinely cheated by death.

July 8, 2015 at 8:28 AM Leave a comment

Facing History in Richmond

The Boston Sunday Globe has featured my home town this morning, and not in a good way. Deconstructing the biased history of Southern whites has taken on new urgency as the world beckons and will surely seek an explanation of blind allegiance to archaic and inhumane institutions. Come September, a world-class bicycle race will take 16 laps around a monument to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. A vandal’s noble act that was quickly white-washed away offers a glimpse into an answer…that our shared Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution clearly indicate that Black Lives Matter.

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia in the 50s and 60s. Davis Avenue was just the other side of my block in the Fan District. Trips to my grandmother’s house on Bethlehem Road almost always took us past the Davis Monument and most of the rest of the monuments to Confederate “heroes.” The drive to my other grandmother’s house took us down The Boulevard, past Museum Row and the tennis courts in Byrd Park where “tennis whites only” signs, allegedly offering a clue to the dress code for the sport, were prominent enough to be read from the car. By 1970, busing took me to high school at Maggie Walker, where I would train for a tennis team on the city’s other courts in Battery Park – a series of courts in a gully paved after a sewer project took much of the city’s waste water underground to a new processing plant – and get my first glimpses of a new perspective on history.

Battery Park was where Arthur Ashe had honed his considerable skills in the shadow of large Sassafras trees; apparently his shorts and tee shirts could never get white enough for the fashion police of Byrd Park. I was a novice player and loved those tennis courts, which were built end-on-end so stray balls never went into the next court. And any shade was welcomed during a heat wave. No one in Richmond society had paid attention as African Americans had built gracious lives in lovely homes once disgraced by a dump. One of my favorite teachers had a home there. A gang war was raging across the city between the east and west side ruffians, but there was peace in that valley.

Many decades later, the Arthur Ashe monument would ignite a debate attributed to the placement of a tennis star’s throne at the end of a line of Civil War figures. It got ugly, and much of the rhetoric was misplaced both in content and focus. This was not about heroism in the battlefield; it was the first time that a local majority of African American citizens had won a decision that effectively challenged the “whites only” history of one of America’s oldest cities.

What is a point of pride in a heritage that is steeped in heinous acts? The Globe article lays bare the shame of the city that did not exactly end with the centuries of slavery. And there is no way to re-frame the story of the Confederacy without these facts. The racial bias inherent in glorified civil war monuments cannot be denied. Yet, the Davis Monument is not likely to be dismantled by September of 2015.

A couple of weeks ago, “Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted on the massive arc of concrete at the foundation of the Davis Monument. The efficiency with which these words were wiped away is a clear indication of how vital it is to restore their message.

Let us air our conversations in full disclosure and find common ground in the Declaration of Independence and in the Preamble of the Constitution. The statue of Jefferson Davis does not represent the United States of America. It should be shrouded for the race, perhaps covered by an American flag and streamers holding the national banners of all of the participating nations. And the walls around the monument should be draped with quotations that confront our divided past. Truths that we hold to be self-evident juxtaposed with the many eloquent calls for action from those for whom those rights have been denied…great banners that announce to the world and remind ourselves: We Are One, and All Lives Matter.

July 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

What If the Goose Is Going to Eat Its Own Golden Egg?

Or…The Real Story Behind the Fight over the ACA

 The Afffordable Care Act (ACA) or ObamaCare, as it is often known, is a blessing or a curse depending on whether you are a Conservative or a Progressive. While counterintuitive, the short-term economic objectives of the two camps are directly at odds. And, until there are more money machines on the horizon, we can expect Republicans to cling to their myopic market view. The trouble is…healthcare that is not allowed to keep us well efficiently will ultimately kill us in the economy, too.

Democrats and Republicans draw opposite conclusions from the same data on healthcare. And the harder the Progressive Democrats try to demonstrate that the facts are on their side with the ACA…the more the Republicans persist in their push for its repeal.

The ACA is reaching uninsured Americans, providing them healthcare, and lowering the inflation rate for that healthcare…all at the same time. And adding healthcare benefits for millions of workers has co-existed with jobs growth and lower unemployment across the US, the exact opposite of the doomsday predictions that bolstered Conservative opposition to the ACA. Where’s the bad news in that?

Well, if you are a Republican and all you have to show for your three decades of alleged supply-side economics is growth in the healthcare and real estate markets, efficiencies in either sector cause damage to their world views. My health economics rant from a few years ago summarized how healthcare costs crowd out other investments in our economy, yet are paradoxically embraced by conservatives because of all the short-term benefits of stock performance, employment, and strong multipliers.

For Conservatives, it is the story of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. For the rest of us, there is a sequel…the Goose that Ate Its Own Golden Egg.

There is no good end game to allowing healthcare to crowd out the rest of the US economy. And turning healthcare into a privilege that is inaccessible to growing numbers of Americans can only be seen as a failure in the market. But there seems to be no easy way to get Republican Congressmen, who are up for election every two years, to put aside their reading glasses and see the danger that lies ahead.

We need non-health-related investment opportunities to replace the healthcare sector as stock market darlings. And we need our keepers of capitalism to open their eyes to this need rather than clamoring to hang onto market inefficiencies in healthcare that are unsustainable. In the meantime, we must turn our disbelief into cynicism and add education about the future of our economy without management of the healthcare monster to the charts on the ACA. It probably won’t penetrate the collective consciousness of the Conservative brain distrust, but it may help motivate us keep our eyes on the prize in this very important battle for a strong economy and a healthy populace.

March 24, 2015 at 10:32 AM Leave a comment

When Campaign Finance Becomes Treason

We may have crossed a line without knowing it. Politicians may be selling influence on the international markets without a trace of evidence through political action committees (PACs). And the appearance of conducting foreign affairs out of Legislative offices suggests a breakdown of the separation of powers owing to the Executive branch. This would seem like a case for the Supreme Court…if only they had not caused the problem in the first place.

Whoever is the keeper of the US Constitution is doing a shoddy job. Corporations and wealthy power brokers already have exerted undue influence over our democratic process with the blessings of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Once blurred, the lines of campaign finance may have been crossed again in the last Presidential election when Mitt Romney made three high-profile stops overseas for “fund raisers” in which “only the American participants” were allowed to write the checks. One of the stops was Israel, where Mr. Romney assured all in attendance that he would support the military decisions of the Israelis were he to be elected President of the United States. Fortunately, that promise was not put to the test.

Now Israel’s Prime Minister has been invited by the Speaker of the House to address Congress on his concerns over the State Department’s negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons. And a group of US Senators has sent a letter to Iran warning that the next US President could overturn treaties with great efficiency.

It is time to start looking for the money trail. If this is treason…it must end now.

March 10, 2015 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

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